Tom Fitzmorris: lunch at Commander's Palace

Talks Revillion with Chef Tory McPhail

The Food Show with Tom Fitzmorris
December 21, 2018 - 7:38 pm

Scott Colomb, who compiles all the web pages for the WWL radio stations, asked me to make a few short videos this morning at Commander’s Palace. Why there he didn’t say, except to note that Commander’s is celebrating its 125th anniversary. And theat restaurant is largely but not entirely booked up for Christmas Eve. (That may have changed by the time you read it.)

Commanders Palace

After we shot the short videos, Lally Brennan and Ti Martin–cousins who own Commander’s and its ancillary restaurants–invited me to stay for lunch, since that meal was about to begin. And because Chef Tory McPhail–who has been in charge of the food at Commander’s for sixteen years, and that’s a record–brought me an appetizer while we were shooting the video. It captured Torey’s style well, looking like a Christmas wreath surrounded by crabmeat and little orange-red dots that resembled mistletoe berries. It didn’t just look wonderful, but tasted that way.

At the table, Torey sent a brothy oyster-mushroom soup, and Lally and I had a long conversation about how things were going at the peak of the restaurant business in New Orleans. Lally looked fabulous in a brilliant red outfit. Later, Ti would say that Lally always looks like that. “When she walks through the room, she leaves a trail of happiness.” I can relate to that. Back in the infancy of Mr. B’s, when we were all in our twenties, I had a mild crush on Lally. I wasn’t the only one. I knew well enough that I was out of my league, so I never acted. That allowed MA, my one true love of thirty years, to emerge and bring this story to a happy ending.

The next work from the hand of Chef Tory was a stack of pork cheeks that had been smoked like bacon. Sort of a guanciale. This was set atop a layer of very dirty and therefore delicious rice. Delicious, especially on a cold winter day like today.

Ti took over the tending of me through today’s dinner, allowing Lally to tackle another matter. The two cousins have their own special task lists, and are diligent about them. Their talents are clearly different. Ti (daughter of Ella Brennan Martin, who was the moving force and style setter for Commander’s and, before that, Brennan’s on Royal Street. Ella passed away this year, leaving behind her a legendary history that she wrote herself, with T’s help: Miss Ella Of Commander’s Palace. I loved the book, which confirms or denies the thousands of stories about things that happened at the restaurant in its 125 years–mostly the last fifty of them. I actually saw a lot of these events as they happened. I’ve never read a better book about the restaurant game.

And here comes Chef Tory with yet another dish for my lunch. This one was a filet mignon with a sauce that included–if I’m not mistaken–some black truffles. That keeps popping up in my dinners later. Always glad to have it. More interesting was the tenderness of the beef, something I particularly noticed in contrast to some very tough (but allegedly USDA Prime) beef that I’ve had lately.

And then we wrapped up with strawberry shortcake. Made, as has always been the case, with fresh strawberries and true shortcakes. Those are more like buttermilk biscuits than the pound cake that’s usually used in restaurants.

That brought me close enough to radio time for me to head over to the studios. No time for a nap today. Although I’ll bet that if I asked Ti or Lally, they would find a nearby sofa for me to conk out upon for fifteen or twenty minutes. I would have told them that I was just following the late Dick Brennan Sr.’s dictum that we should all take a nap between lunch and dinner.`

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